Vizio VF550XVT LCD TV Real-World Performance
First up in the real-world department was chapter 8 of Mission: Impossible III on HD DVD at 1080i. The pan across the staircase pulsed with moderate moiré, and the shadow detail in the catacombs was not great. Neither was the black level—the letterbox bars remained in my consciousness. Setting the backlight control to Mega DCR (Dynamic Contrast Ratio) lowered the blacks a bit, but it made the entire picture duller, while the OPC (Optimum Power Control) setting didn't seem to do much at all, so I left this control in the Off position. The apparent black level rose as I moved off axis, but not as much as with many LCDs I've seen.
One great test of frame interpolation occurs near the beginning of Star Wars VI on DVD as Darth Vader's shuttle approaches the Death Star. The first view of the Death Star from the shuttle cockpit was a bit shimmery in the Smooth setting, as were the fine vertical lines on the wall of the landing bay as the shuttle approaches, but these artifacts were not nearly as bad as I've seen on many 120Hz LCDs. Otherwise, colors were excellent, and detail was as good as can be expected from standard-def, though the black of space was not very deep, and lots of detail in the dark shuttle cockpit was lost.
Cars on Blu-ray has a moment that is particularly sensitive to frame-interpolation artifacts—it's near the beginning when the three frontrunners in the race are being profiled. When it's Lighting McQueen's turn, he appears in an inset picture in front of an array of bright blue lights that exhibit any smudging artifacts that might arise from frame interpolation.
On the Vizio, the blue lights were indeed smudged, but not as blatantly as many other LCDs I've seen. The Smooth setting caused more of this smudging than Precision, but it also smoothed out and sharpened the motion detail much more. I decided I could live with rare artifacts in the Smooth mode in order to enjoy much sharper and smoother motion otherwise.
When I was preparing to play Cars on my Samsung BD-P1200 Blu-ray player, I tried to set it to output 1080p/24, but it would not let me select 24fps. That was odd, so I set the Toshiba HD-XA2 to 1080p/24, but the Vizio's screen went black, and I could not reset the player because I could not see the menu. Outputting 1080p/60 worked fine in both cases.
When I called Vizio about it, I was informed that the TV has a compatibility problem with certain players at 1080p/24—the company has identified the Panasonic DMP-BD30 and 35 in this regard. (I assume the BD50 and 55 must also be problematic, since they are identical to the 30 and 35 except for their multichannel analog-audio outputs.) According to the company, the Sony PlayStation 3 works fine at 1080p/24, but I didn't have one on hand to test this.
Blu-rays looked superb in general, with excellent detail and color rendition. I really enjoyed Hidalgo with its beautiful skin tones and textures, blue sky, colorful and intricate textiles, rock cliffs, and stone buildings. Shadow detail in the dark tents was not that great—in fact, the picture seemed just a tad dull. On the plus side, motion and pans were silky smooth in Smooth mode, almost like 1080p/24.
Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer on Blu-ray was about the same. The opening shots in space were pretty dull, but the moving titles and credits were smooth and sharp. Bright scenes were nice and punchy, detail in things like cityscapes was excellent, and colors were right on the money. As before, shadow detail in Von Doom's lair was only so-so.
Master and Commander is a great test of shadow detail, and as expected, the Vizio didn't perform well in this regard on the DVD. The many fog-bound shots were rather dull, but the image popped much more in the bright sunlight when the ship arrives at the Galapagos Islands. Detail was pretty good for a DVD, and the colors were spot on.
The audio level was very low in general, and turning SRS TruVolume on helped a lot. SRS TruSurround HD didn't seem to do much other than affect the tone, and not in a way that helped the dull sound. The audio controls include a 5-band EQ wasn't much help either—the bands are too wide to be of much use. Even a modest home-theater-in-a-box would improve the audio experience greatly.